Leaders and Going Viral

I have noticed, throughout my career, that there are different qualities for leaders and managers. At the extreme, good leaders are lousy managers and good managers are lousy leaders. In rare instances I have worked for someone who was both, but this is rare.

It’s almost like there’s a sliding scale between being a leader and a manager and most people in charge end up somewhere between the two.

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An organization needs both. If there is more than one leader, they’d better be leading in the same direction!

Characteristics of a Great Leader:

  • Has a clear vision of where he wants to go
  • Drives towards that goal, hell or high water
  • Does not believe in “My way or the highway,” instead is simply convinced of, “My way” and inspires others with his vision
  • Conveys his passion for the goal to others
  • “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”
  • Has great gut instinct of what the target market will buy
  • Disdains market research. As Henry Ford said, “If I asked customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.”
  • Being a genius doesn’t hurt

Characteristics of a Great Manager

  • Believes strongly in team consensus
  • Works to get everyone on board, everyone in agreement with the goal
  • Gets 100% Buy-In towards the goal
  • Gets each team member to contribute his maximum potential
  • Makes sure that the market is ready for the product being planned and produced
  • Listens carefully to the opinions of others and reconciles differences before proceeding
  • Cares deeply about his team and does his best to make their job easier so that they’re more productive
  • Pays attention to market research and works hard to make sure his product hits the targets defined by market research

When you look at the list, there’s no disagreeing that every characteristic has merit. Doing every one of them is a great idea. But there is a dividing line between the two, sometimes fuzzy but very observable. Great leaders lead. Great managers manage.

Great leaders are not oppressive, although they are often demanding. They want perfection! And they want it now.

Great football coaches often fit the mold of a great leader. They sure as heck don’t ask the players, “Let’s do three hours of punishing exercise, drills and practice. OK?” They say, “Here’s the schedule. Get with it. Go!” Whether they’re considered a tyrant, a despot or a hero is how they lead, how they inspire the people who work for them.

In some cases, leader-types know what they want but do not clearly communicate their vision to others, nor inspire the team to achieve greatness. This detracts from their leadership qualities and if severe moves them into the category of “lousy leader.”

In an organization, you need great managers. You need those who can pull a group of people together and build them into a team. Give them a voice, let them participate and be part of the team. A great manager achieves consensus, he gets everyone working together towards a common goal, a common direction.

I have never heard anyone say that George Patton or Winston Churchill were good managers. I have read countless stories about how they were great leaders. Underneath them there were good managers who executed the direction given, charged with achieving the goal or vision laid down by the Big Boss.

If you want to achieve success with a software company, you need a leader. Someone who knows the market intimately, who knows what product will succeed and can and will inspire and drive a team to achieve the impossible. Underneath the leader, you need good managers to “herd all the cats” together and pull in the same direction.

To go viral, you’ve got to have a great product, you’ve got to have great PR and Marketing, you’ve got to have great Tech Support. Behind that you’ve got to have a great leader who knows where the company needs to go and what it takes to get there and will push without reservation in that direction.



Anatomy of Great Support

What does great support consist of?

First of all, it starts with attitude. As a company, are you bound and determined to do what it takes to help a customer? Or is support merely a business unit that you have to have while ensuring that your total bottom line doesn’t exceed X percent of revenue?

Which approach do you think will help you go viral?

How well trained are your support personnel? Do you have technical classes to train your support techs on the nuances of your software? Do the Tier Two and Tier Three techs pass along their hard-earned knowledge to the newbies?

If you’re providing support to the US, do your techs speak English like a native? If a tech says his name is Kevin, will a customer believe him?

How convoluted are your phone trees? When a customer calls in, how many menus does he have to navigate through to reach a live person? Do you dummy test your customer support?

In other words, do you have someone call in specifically to test how good or bad the support is, without support knowing about it ahead of time? Customers do when evaluating the product, particularly in the business world.

Do you work towards actual problem resolution or do you concentrate on closing tickets—and you count tickets as closed if you haven’t heard from a customer for a few days?

How serious are you about having your Support team help your customers?

Tech Support is a tough job. Not only do you have to take good care of your customers, you have to take good care of your Support staff. They’re on the front lines getting beat up by complaining customers and some of those customers are experiencing serious problems that are causing all kinds of grief.

Give your support staff perks: Gift cards to Tiger Direct or other tech store. Amazon gift certificates. Give them training. Provide career paths to move into development or Sales or Product Management. Lighten the mood with Nerf gun wars or other stress relief activities. If you take care of your Support staff, they’ll go that extra mile to take care of customers.

Most companies treat Support as a necessary evil, a drain on the profit margin. That kind of support doesn’t build great customer loyalty.

If you treat support as an extremely valuable customer touch point, one that wins you loyalty and word-of-mouth advertising, you have a chance. Back that up with training and the right vision, along with taking care of your Support staff and work hard to take care of the customers, then you have the third pillar of going viral in place.

Building Customer Loyalty With Great Support

Customers don’t rave about your products when they’re good. They only rave about them when they’re great–and complain about them when they’re bad.

What makes a great product?

First and foremost, a great product isn’t what the developers or marketing guys or sales team think is great—a great product is what the customers think is great. To achieve that distinction, there are a couple of ways to do it.

  1. Get lucky.
  2. Customer research and then deliver the goods.

Although many companies have achieved viral growth with a great product by accident, the landscape is littered with companies that had really good products that missed the market. Even with a great product, you need great marketing and support to ignite the viral growth curve.

We’ve covered the product and marketing in this series, and next is Customer Support.

Why is superlative customer support so important in the viral growth curve?

First, let’s flip it around. How many times have you called in for software support and not had your problem solved? How many times have you punched numerous keys in response to menu prompts, only to finally get a tech support person who asks you if you’ve rebooted your computer or other inane questions? And then spent the next fifteen minutes having you do what you’ve already done?

And followed THAT up with more and more arcane steps that didn’t resolve the problem?

How willing were you to brag about that software to your friends?

To get the viral growth curve, you’ve got to achieve that WOW factor. If you’re software is pretty good, even great, there’s still going to be problems. There always are. You have to solve those problems in such a way that customers are very satisfied. They need to rave about your customer support!

When a customer has a problem that they think is your software, it’s your fault. Even if it’s a problem with Windows or another program, if it’s associated in their mind with your software (such as during install or a problem right after install), it’s your fault. Each one of those problems counts five or ten times against you.

Good customer support erases that 5X or 10X negative and replaces it with a positive.

You might think that a 10X negative versus a 1X positive isn’t fair, and it isn’t! But that’s how customers think and if you work hard to eliminate that negative and replace it with a positive, you’ve removed a heck of a lot of negative against you.

“Negatives” build up against viral growth. That’s not to say you won’t go viral if you have lousy tech support, because you can. But your product and marketing have to be that much better to overcome the dead-weight anchor of bad tech support.

One important component to going viral is word of mouth advertising. Great customer support results in word of mouth advertising. Instead of being against you, customers will be in favor of you. They’ll even blog about it, post their rave reviews of your support on your forums, even tell their friends.

Great support builds customers for life as well. Those customers become your bedrock, your foundation, your core. Going viral seldom happens in a few months—it’s usually a year or two (or more) of establishing your base and then the viral curve takes off.

If you provide great support to great products that are marketed well, you can’t help but succeed.

It’s amazing how many companies skimp on product support and the resultant mediocre reputations those companies achieve.

Don’t be mediocre—include great product support in your company’s arsenal of tools that will take you viral.